Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday gift waste

The holidays are over and you've gotten everything you wanted, and some you didn't.  There are always those people who give you stuff because they think they're expected to, but have absolutely no idea what you like so just buy any random thing so they don't come empty-handed.  The thought was wonderful, but what you got isn't the most practical and will just collect dust in the back of a closet somewhere in your house.

So did you get something this year that you have absolutely no use for whatsoever, like another hot pink snuggie or maybe a sweater that doesn't fit you AT ALL?  What are your options for getting rid of these things without throwing them in the trash?

Freecycle or donate:
This is a great way to get rid of those things you don't need or want and give them to those less fortunate.  Win-win!

Dress up trunk:
Save outdated clothes or those that don't fit for a dress up trunk for the kids in your life (nieces, nephews, and grandchildren count too).

For those last minute gifts, keep an extra drawer or closet shelf with some of these gifts (and put a piece of tape with the giver's name on it so you know who NOT to regift it to).  Some people say regifting is tacky, but I say it's environmental.  Better than ending up in the trash or not being used at all, right?

Have a swap party: 
Have everyone bring those gifts they don't want or can't use and have a party!  These swapping parties can be lots of fun as long as you don't invite anyone who has given you anything recently.  Don't want to be put in that awkward situation.

Check out this article on NPR about the value of gifts and swapping.
Hope these ideas will help you give those unwanted gifts a new home.  Just don't tell your great-Aunt Mildred I told you to get rid of her crocheted vest.  ;-)

Be sure to tune in to next week's post about making a green resolution.  Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Aftermath

The holidays will be over soon and we'll be left with the aftermath of the gift-opening frenzy.  What to do with all the waste?  Here are a few ideas on how to get rid of it all in the most environmental way possible.

Keep all of your gift bags, bows, ribbons, clothing boxes, and any decorative packaging that you can reuse next year.  I keep all of mine in a special holiday gift wrapping bin that I just store away with the rest of the Christmas decor.  I also keep a pair of scissors, tape, and gift tags in there so it's all ready to go for next year.

Please recycle your gift wrap unless it's foil paper or has anything in it that's not made of paper.  Also recyclable are tissue paper, cardboard boxes, or paperboard packaging (read: Barbie boxes, Bakugan boxes, and almost every other toy packaging). 

Christmas trees:
Take off all lights, ornaments, tinsel, garland, and any other decor on the tree before putting it on the curb.  Trees are usually taken curbside for two weeks after Christmas.  Google: "Recycling Christmas trees" + your county name and it should give you information on how to recycle in your area.  

If there's anything else you'd like to get rid of, please don't put it in the landfill.  Freecycle it instead or donate it to a local shelter or church.  Or wait til next year and sell it in a yard sale.  Remember, someone's trash is someone else's treasure.  

For more ideas, here's a great article on Earth911 about how to recycle Christmas decor, gift wrap, and other holiday leftovers: Holiday Recycling

Hope these tips will help you enjoy your holiday without creating too much waste in the process.  Have a great holiday and an even better new year!  

Monday, December 13, 2010

Eco-friendly gift wrap

Tis the season for gift giving and receiving.  But how to wrap your presents in an eco-friendly way? Without going so far as ironing and reusing gift wrap, here are a few ideas that don't kill as many trees this holiday season.

Gift bags:
These treasures are as easy as it gets to wrap gifts and can be reused til they fall apart.  Just make sure to take off any sticker labels before giving to someone else.  However, don't go overboard stuffing it with tissue paper since it's not recyclable in some areas.  

Cloth bags:
These are the best option because they don't require any trees, and are great to re-gift.  You can make your own with some pretty fabric or buy some already made.
Here are a few links for a how-to
http://www.wikihow.com/Sew-a-Cloth-Gift-Bag and http://www.canadianliving.com/crafts/sewing/holiday_craft_easy_to_make_gift_bags.php
And for already made bags, try Living Ethos or Lucky Crow for beautiful collections of cloth gift bags.  

Use the comics section of the Sunday newspaper for children's presents.  Wrap in a festive bow and they won't know the difference.  

Brown craft paper/paper bags:
Stamp the paper or put stickers to decorate, or have your kids draw something special on the paper. Finish it off with a beautiful ribbon or bow.

Recycled gift wrap:
These use less resources to make and are recyclable.  A lot of the fancy gift wrap contain elements (like metal, dyes, and laminates) that aren't recyclable.

Reuse gift boxes and shoeboxes:
You can decoupage these or just finish it off with a nice bow or ribbon. 

Clothing or blankets:
Wrap gifts in scarves, sweaters, baby blankets, fleece blankets, snuggies, or anything else that can be used again.  If giving a food or cooking gift, wrap in a kitchen towel or apron.  

Cellophane bags:
These are 100% biodegradable since they are made from plants and trees.  Wrap gift baskets with this or baked goods.

Some other recyclable or reusable gift wrap ideas:

Chinese takeout boxes, festive tins, old maps, or old calendars.  Use a pretty ornament or small picture frame as your gift tag.  And don't forget to reuse your ribbon and bows every year.

Hope these ideas will help you make your presents beautiful and eco-friendly.  Happy Holidays!! 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Homemade Holiday gifts

All of the big shopping sale days are through, but if you are still looking for ideas for gifts this year you could try making something yourself.  This doesn't have to look like a kindergarten class project so check out some of these ideas for homemade gifts:

Food gifts:
If you have a special talent for baking or crafting, why not share your skills with others this holiday season?
For the baker, make: breads, cookies, cakes, or pies and include a serving knife or spatula tied with ribbon around the jar or container.
For the cook, make: jams, marinades, salsas, or infused olive oil and include a serving spoon.
Try making kits in a jar to make cookies, cakes, soup, etc.
You could also make a meal for someone, or even compile your favorite family recipes into a recipe book (if you add pictures you can do this on any photo website, such as Shutterfly).
Don't forget to include recipes for any treats you make so the recipient can make them again.

For the crafty:
If you're good with paper: make a pack of embellished notecards, cards for special occasions (like birthdays, anniversaries, etc), bookmarks, or a birthday calendar.  Include a nice pen or pencil and wrap in pretty ribbon.
Make a scrapbook where the recipient only has to fill in the photos, or include the photos yourself.
Decorate a photo frame for a special picture, or make a wreath (either real or artificial, or even one made of ornaments).

For those good with needles:
For sewers, make: doll clothes, aprons, special monogrammed things such as pillowcases, napkins, towels, or baby burpcloths.
For knitters, make: scarves, sweaters, mittens, stockings, winter hats, etc.

Homemade spa treatments:
Put together some bath salts, aromatic oils, make soap or candles.  Craft stores have kits to make the soap and candles, and also sell jars and bottles for the salts and oils.  You could also find jars & bottles at The Container Store, thrift store, or antique store.
Martha Stewart has good recipes on how to make good bath salts.  Here's a site for easy to make bath oils: http://www.beauty-and-the-bath.com/homemade-bath-oil.html

Other ideas:
Put together a family tree for someone who's really into their genealogy.  Or make a CD of favorite songs for your kids or for that special someone.  

Get creative.  There are a million ideas out there for ways to use your talents to make gifts that your loved ones will enjoy.  Be sure to package these goodies in an eco-friendly way (tins, special dishes, reused pasta sauce jars, etc).

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cyber Monday: green sites & sales

Now that Thanksgiving and the craziness of Black Friday is over, only Cyber Monday is left in the weekend of outrageous savings.  If you are inclined to do some online shopping for your holiday gifts, check out these websites that feature green products, some at special discounts and some others with just unique gifts for that special someone.

Check out these Cyber Monday deals on eco-friendly products from dog bowls to reusable shopping bags:
CSN Stores  is an online retailer with over 200 stores featuring everything from bar stools to lots of green products.  Simply look up eco-friendly or green, and the search will show you tons of choices.  I will be reviewing their products and services soon, so watch for that post in the near future. 
Here are a few more:
Amazon.com  always seem to have great deals, and they feature lots of green products as well (such as Green Toys).  

For unique gifts:
Red Envelope offers special discounts from today thru Tuesday, November 30th.
Uncommon Goods have unique, unusual, and funny gifts.
Etsy is offering Cyber Monday deals.  This site sells handmade or vintage arts & crafts.  
Kir Devries is a site that features "impeccably crafted, eco-friendly and fair trade products that have been hand selected especially for you!".  They are also having some great deals this Monday.

I mentioned Green Toys in my last post because they are made of recycled plastic milk jugs.  Here are a few deals going on with their products that feature a firetruck or tools.
Pottery Barn Kids is also featuring lots of products on sale this weekend, who also sell Green Toys.

LL Bean (featuring eco-friendly products) offer free shipping thru december 20.
Patagonia offers E-gift cards which are sent via email than the traditional plastic gift card.

I'm sure there are many online shopping sites that I've missed, but I hope I at least gave you a few green ideas with savings.
Next post: homemade holiday gifts.  
Happy shopping!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Green Gift Ideas

Black Friday is creeping up on us and as we get our strategery for the shopping extravaganza, why not think of a few ways to make this holiday gift-giving a little greener.  Here are a few ideas on how to make every penny count and put some smiles on people's faces when they open their gifts this year.

Think of quality over quantity:
Try to think of practical gifts that the recipient could actually use and that are long-lasting.  And if you're unsure of what to get that person, give a gift card or cash instead.  Gift cards aren't very eco-friendly because they're made of plastic and end up in the landfill, but I believe it's better than giving something that someone will throw away anyway.  Think of what your recipient is into, or if you don't know the person very well you could give a gift card to a grocery store or gas station, or even a phone card if the person makes lots of international calls. 

Gifts of service:
If you're budget is tight this year, you could offer your time or service as a gift.  Here are a few ideas: baby sitting, cutting someone's lawn, flowers from your garden every month, fruit or vegetables from your garden, dog-walking, or a homemade dinner.  Sometimes your time is worth more than anything you could buy from the store.

Gifts of experience:
If you know someone that has everything, why not give them something different, such as a cleaning service, gift card to a local restaurant or movie theatre, or even a cooking class.  Or maybe a bowling gift certificate, a concert, or anything else the recipient might be into.  It won't clutter up their house and there's nothing to throw away, regift or recycle. 

Photo gifts:
These are my favorite gifts to give because nothing could be more personal than a picture of you with the recipient.  And what grandparent doesn't love to get photos of their grandkids.  Photo books, calendars personalized with your photos, and special frames that can be engraved are great ways to share special moments with loved ones. 

Gift Baskets:
This is another favorite of mine because you can get creative with a theme and specialize it to that particular person.  A movie theme basket: put a couple of DVDs or netflix membership in a popcorn bowl with some popcorn, toppings, and candy, of course.  Cooking basket: pick a cuisine and have fun with it.  For example, an Italian theme: pasta bowls, seasonings, herbs, pasta, and maybe a cookbook.  For the avid reader/writer: a gift card to a local book store, a special bookmark, and a journal with a special pen.  Tea/Coffee basket: give a wooden tray along with a special mug and/or reusable mug, spoon, beverage of choice, cloth napkin and maybe a favorite magazine.

Gifts for children:
Think long-lasting, not trendy.  Puzzles, boardgames, playing cards, craft kits, books, clothes, a hula hoop, or dress-up outfits will last at least a year, if not longer, and won't clutter up your house with a million little pieces that you'll suck up with the vacuum.  Check out "green toys" at pottery barn kids.  These toys are made of recycled plastic milk jugs and are BPA free so they are safe and non-toxic for kids to put in their mouth (plus, they're made in the USA).  Wooden toys are also very eco-friendly and long-lasting.  And also try to avoid buying toys with lots of packaging.  Finally, try to buy gifts that don't require batteries.  The parents will appreciate it as well. :)

Buy Local:
Support your local businesses and economy by shopping within your community.  Local craft fairs have unique and beautiful gifts for that special someone.  Antique shops are great because it's something that's being reused and could add charm to someone's home.  One idea is to make a gift basket of local things from your area for those friends and family that live in a different state. 

This final idea isn't popular with everyone but maybe a certain someone on your list is into a particular cause that they'd appreciate you supporting, such as an animal shelter, food bank, toy drive, or environmental organization.  This is also good for those who have everything and just don't want anything else to clutter up their home. 

So that's it.  Hopefully it gives you a few ideas before you head out to face the crowds at the malls, or shop online in your PJs.  Whichever way you choose to shop, I hope you find a few green gifts for your list.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

eco-friendly holiday cards

I have to be honest with you, I am not ready for Christmas yet.  This year has gone by so fast that I can't get over the fact that it's almost Thanksgiving.  I usually have my Christmas cards ready to be mailed by Halloween with most of my presents already crossed off the list.  I am nowhere near that this year.

Last year I gave people the choice of receiving their card via email or by snail mail and was surprised to see how many people chose the former.  I know not everyone is as sentimental as I am and throw away their cards as soon as the Christmas tree is taken down, so I figured why create more waste for them (and the planet).

Here are some eco-friendly options for holiday cards this year:
Recycled cards:
Hallmark, Snapfish, Target and Kidbean all offer different options for holiday cards made from recycled paper.

Make your own:
Use recycled paper and consider only sending them to those who will appreciate the time and effort it takes to make it.

Donate the $ instead:
Why not use the money you were planning on using for the holiday cards instead on a worthy cause like the local food bank or a school in need of supplies.  Send an e-card letting everyone know what charity you're supporting and invite them to contribute as well.

There are plenty of options out there to send cards via email that offer animated, funny, traditional, or photo cards to your friends and family.  American Greetings, Smilebox, Hallmark, and Blue Mountain are just a few.  Sites like flickr and Shutterfly offer holiday albums you can share if you don't want to do a simple card.  And if anyone on your list really wants a printed photo of you, they have the option to print it at home.

Cards that grow:
And finally, there are the cards you can grow when you're done displaying them.  Green Field Paper is a company that makes recycled seed-embedded cards that use soy ink and grow flowers.  Perfect for those who don't like to keep the cards and there's no guilt about the waste!

Reuse and recycle:
You can reuse old holiday cards to make gift bags, gift tags, ornaments, or as a placemat.  You can also send your used cards to St. Jude's Ranch where they can make new cards out of them.  And when you're done with the cards that you get in the mail this year, don't forget to RECYCLE!

So many options and so little time!  Have fun deciding on which way to spread the holiday cheer.  :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Holiday Decor

It's the most wonderful time of the year... although, you wouldn't know it by the very mild weather we're having in mid-November.  For the next six weeks, my blog will be dedicated to the holidays.  I'll cover decorating, holiday cards, gift wrap, gift ideas (including homemade), and what to do with it all when it's over.   (For those scrooges who would rather not deal with the holidays, tune in at the beginning of 2011 for more non-holiday eco-tips.)

This week: Holiday Decor
Soon, Thanksgiving will be upon us and we can break out the holiday decorating bins to deck the halls.  But how to do this in an eco-friendly way?

First, reuse the same decorations year after year.  There are people who choose a different theme each year for their tree, which means new ornaments, ribbons, etc. to purchase.  Not only does this get expensive, but you need more space to store all of these decorations.  However, more people seem to have traditions of using the same ornaments for sentimental value and to pass on to their children.  We still use ornaments I had growing up and the kids get a kick out of it (since it's hard for them to imagine their parents were EVER little kids).

I was given a handmade artificial wreath several years ago that I use every year.  It's decorated beautifully and it saves me from having to get a real one to keep alive.  I can barely keep a potted plant alive so having to maintain a real wreath makes me anxious.  The same goes for garland.  I use the artificial kind only because it's easier to maintain and have gotten many years out of them.

Second, the Christmas tree.  Artificial vs. real:
Artificial trees are bad for the environment because of the chemicals used to produce them as well as the toxins they release in the air.  They also use fuel to transport these trees to the stores, usually made in China.  If you have an artificial tree you want to get rid of, please donate it or freecycle it instead of throwing it away since they are not biodegradable and will last forever in the landfill.

Real trees, on the other hand, are grown on local tree farms (renewable resource), specifically to get cut down every November/December and are replanted every year so there is no detriment to the environment.  They add oxygen to the atmosphere and are biodegradable.  There are gadgets to keep the trees watered, so it makes it simple and easy for me to keep it alive for the month it's up in the house. And then when the holidays are over, you can leave it on your curb which they will turn into mulch to reuse in the environment.

Next, lights:
LED lights last longer than traditional incandescent string lights and they use less energy.  They don't get as hot either, which means less risk of fire.  This weekend at Home Depot, they are offering a $3 coupon for new LED lights for every string light you bring to recycle there, broken or not.  (The offers ends today, Sunday, so take advantage of this great deal.)  Make sure you put your lights on a timer, or at least remember to turn them out at a certain time at night. Keeping the lights on all night wastes energy and makes your bills higher.

Lastly, homemade decor:
Consider making your own holiday decorations.  You can use pine cones that you find outside and can put them in a nice bowl either spray-painted festive colors, or just leave plain and add branches from evergreens.  Make your own wreath and garland, if you have a green thumb.  Have your kids make some decorations to help spruce up the home during the holidays.  (Remember, glitter and snowflakes are easy & add extra sparkle.)  Homemade ornaments are also fun and much cheaper to make than buy.  Plus, you'll make memories your family will cherish for years to come.
Check out this link to Family Fun's ideas for homemade crafts for kids.  http://familyfun.go.com/christmas/  
And this one for homemade ornaments:

Hope all of this information will get you started to having a wonderful and green holiday.  And check out my eco-mami facebook page to get 25 days of Christmas eco-tips starting in December.  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Public Transportation: long way to go in U.S.

I live in the suburbs.  We moved here for the scenery, fresh air, and open spaces.  The compromise we've had to make is that we are 10 miles from any modern conveniences, such as the gas station, grocery store, and preschool.  We've also succumbed to the suburban lifestyle of shuttling our kids to sports and afterschool activities.  This makes using public transportation next to impossible, besides the fact that it's nowhere to be found out here in the sticks.  There are no walking or bike paths on the rural road I live off of and the only buses you see are for school.

Having lived and traveled in Europe and South America, I've seen that public transportation is used as the primary mode of getting around.  They bike, walk, take the bus or train to wherever they need to go.  They use their cars for weekend and family excursions.  The reasons for this are many, for example, the medieval roads are too narrow for cars larger than a 2 person capacity so that strikes out large families or non-European tourists.

Another reason is that cars aren't seen as a status symbol.  In the U.S., depending on where you live, taking the bus is for the underprivileged folks or college students.  Our cars tell so much about our lives and personalities.  Do I even have to mention the mini-van?

Most importantly though, cars are the most convenient way for Americans to get around.  No schedules to wait on, no delayed trains or buses, no walking to and from the station.  In Europe and South America  their trains and buses run more efficiently and take you everywhere so taking public transportation isn't as complicated as it can be for us.

I went down to the city the past two weekends and found taking the metro extremely inconvenient and nerve-wracking.  After last year's deadly crash and recent terror threats, it's hard not to think of something awful happening while you're on the train.  It also took me twice as long to get to the city as it would have if I drove.  Granted, it was the weekend and the trains don't come as often, and one weekend had record crowds traveling on the train, but it's not something I'm willing to do again any time soon.

Unfortunately, for most of us our time is too precious to wait for the bus or train so getting in our very own little capsule of transport is easier to get from point A to point B.  There are some American cities that have it together, like Chicago or New York, but it needs to improve everywhere for it to become more attractive to everyone.  If you can't get an environmentalist to take public transportation, imagine the work you need to do for everyone else to want to get around this way.

In a few years, the metro will be extended a little further out in the suburbs and maybe it'll be a better experience.  But for now, don't expect to see me on the metro too often.  I'd love to be able to promote public transportation in this area, but for us suburbanites it's just too much of a pain in the ass.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vote for Earth!

This week being election week, I thought it appropriate to blog about an issue that is oddly divided among party lines: Global Warming.  Living in the outskirts of Washington, DC, it is hard not to be involved somewhat in politics.  Almost everyone has issues that they adamantly believe in and mine, obviously, is the environment.  According to this USA Today article, more Democrats believe in climate change than Republicans.
Shockingly, though, I never thought that this was a political issue since we all live on the same planet.  We'd all benefit from making changes even if we're not around to see all of the changes come to full fruition.

Since the first Earth Day back in 1970, there have been major changes made to how we deal with the environment.  From the Clean Air Act, to the Clean Water Act, to getting emissions checked on your car, all of these things are done to make our world a better place.  Cleaner air and water, what's not to like about that?

But now to think about global warming and whether or not it's a valid thing according to which scientist you believe, it gets a little trickier.  Republicans, for the most part, believe it isn't real or it isn't man-made and that the earth goes through cyclical changes in climate.  Democrats believe that it IS man-made and that cutting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), coal power plant emissions, and other greenhouse gases could actually help reduce what causes global warming.

Either way, everyone on this earth benefits if we make a few simple changes.  There's no arguing that we're running out of landfill space, putting all kinds of toxic chemicals into our ecosystems which eventually end up in our bodies, as well as so many other environmental issues, but global warming/climate change is the mostly argued theory in recent history.

Despite what the USA Today article suggests, however, there is a Republican-based group, REP (Republicans for Environmental Protection: http://www.rep.org/) that advocates environmental issues.  Recently, I heard someone joke that NPR was trying not to be seen as a liberal station even though their giveaway was an organic reusable cloth bag at their recent fundraising drive.  Why does the environment have to be a liberal issue?  Isn't it a human issue?

So hopefully, regardless of your political party preference, I hope that this blog can give you ideas on how to make this planet a little more pleasant to live on for now and future generations.  And you can vote on a greener lifestyle.  :)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Green Festival recap

This weekend was the Green Festival in Washington, DC and, although I was very excited to attend, I wasn't that impressed.  Sure they had at least a hundred booths representing different and innovative environmental ideas, and several of them even had delicious samples to try and take home.  However, my overall impression was that they didn't offer much for those people who aren't already green.  It didn't give me new ways to be more eco-friendly without being very impractical, time consuming or inconvenient.

There were plenty of vendors in attendance to show you how to green your home, but I wasn't in the market for that.  There was a row of booths dedicated to being a green parent for infants and toddlers, but not for older kids like my own.  And then there were a few clothing vendors who sold clothes made of organic cotton or recycled water bottles that were overpriced.  Then there were those EXTREME eco-products like compost toilets and a spray that takes the color and smell out of the urine in your toilet bowl so you don't have to flush it.   I can't make stuff like that up.  

There were only a few select vendors that caught my attention where I actually spoke with their spokesperson or company owner for more than just a few seconds.  The rest of the booths started to blend together after a couple of hours spent there, which was highly disappointing.  If you tried one chocolate sample, you tried them all, you know?  There weren't enough companies promoting things for greening everyday living and that was disappointing.

Another disappointment in the festival was that their ad promoted a children's section that was going to highlight what the new National Children's Museum in DC would feature.  And because of this I decided to take my 9 year old son with me.  It was a waste of time.  They had reserved some open space in the convention center where kids could draw with crayons, make crafts out of plastic bottle pieces, and play bowling with some 2 liters filled with rice.  Thank goodness my son found the rest of the stuff in the other booths interesting or I would've owed him plenty for dragging him through this festival. 

But the biggest disappointment for me was the prices of the things sold.  The chocolate bars being sold, (that we so eagerly tried in the many samples they had shared), cost $4 a bar!!  A 2-year-old's dress cost $45?  Really?  Sure it was made out of recycled water bottles, but it's still for a child who's going to outgrow it in a few months anyway.  Some people are eager to spend this kind of money, and I guess that's great for stimulating the economy.  But for the most part, there are still people struggling out there to make ends meet and I believe the green movement will not go anywhere if it can't be affordable to everyone.  

I already felt a little out of place since I wasn't a Rastafarian, hippy, or LGBT, so it didn't seem like the heavenly place I anticipated the festival to be.  The food they served was mostly vegetarian, vegan, or goat (that one really threw me off!), so we had some curried tofu and rice, and some vegan version of lasagna that was pretty disgusting.  

Sooo, the conclusion of this story is to say that I felt that although I am a proud environmentalist, even I felt excluded from this crowd.  I feel like there is so much improvement to be made in order to get this movement into the mainstream.  I seem to be pretty normal in comparison to some of these extreme vegan, hemp-wearing, patchouli-smelling people and I hope to be able to bring the rest of you normal people into this movement with me.  A few simple steps don't have to cost you your paycheck, and some things will actually save you money.  I was pretty disappointed not to find anything like that at the festival, so maybe I'll set up my own booth at the festival next year.  :)  

Friday, October 22, 2010

6 months of eco-tips!

Hi everyone,

Today marks 6 months of writing this eco-mami blog.  It all started with being inspired by Earth Day 2010 when I wrote 30 days of eco-tips on Facebook.  And through encouragement and support of my Facebook friends, I began writing this blog.  A month later, I started the Facebook site for eco-mami (thanks to all of you who have "liked" the page).  This journey has inspired me to believe this is what I was meant to do. As I learn more ways to make this world a little greener, I will continue to share these tips with you.

I hope that the tips have been easy to incorporate into your every day lives and that you've come to realize that going green isn't that complicated at all.  With the basics of reduce, reuse, recycle, ANYONE can become an environmentalist and advocate for this planet that we all share.

Thanks for all of you who have read the blog, even if just once.  You can't use the excuse that you didn't know any better, and the more you know, the better you live.
I am more than happy to continue sharing eco-tips in the coming months.  My ultimate goal is to make this a full-time business to help everyone become more eco-friendly.  Look for eco-mami, LLC in the near future, fingers crossed.

Thanks again, and keep reading.  :)


Friday, October 15, 2010

The D word

The D word is something that is avoided at all costs in my household.  The D word is Disposable.  AHHHH!!! This includes plastic bags of any kind (shopping, ziploc, etc), one-time use products, and lots of paper products.

This is, no doubt, a very disposable society.  Every time I turn on the TV, there is another commercial of a new disposable product.  The latest one that irks me to the core is the Lysol disposable towels.  WTH?  Can people really not use a real towel and wash it when necessary?

Sure, disposable is very convenient.  Use it once, then throw it away.  No fuss, no muss, nothing to clean up.  Unfortunately, no one really thinks about where this trash goes?  Some things can go in the recycling bin, like water bottles, fruit cups, etc. but the majority ends up in the landfill.

If each of us thought of our individual impact or footprint that we leave on this earth, I think we'd all be more likely to change our disposable habits.

Easy alternatives to disposable that WILL make a difference:
- Cloth napkins instead of paper napkins
- Microfiber cloths instead of paper towels
- Reusable mop instead of Swiffer or similar products
- Reusable water bottles & mugs for water and coffee
- Reusable shopping bags instead of plastic or paper
- Compostable products made of plants instead of those made with plastic that sit in the landfill for years
- Buying in bulk instead of individual servings
- Reusable lunch bags instead of paper
- Tupperware or glass containers instead of plastic baggies
- Refills instead of buying new bottles to replace (like for cleaning products or hand soap)
- Reusable plates and glasses instead of paper or plastic
- Chinese paper lanterns instead of balloons (to decorate)

Try these alternatives and you will notice a significant difference in the amount of trash you produce.  And if you recycle as much as possible, it will be even less.  Not only will you be saving the planet, but you'll also be saving money by not having to buy these disposable products over and over again.

Let's try to change the throw-away mentality of our society, one household at a time.
Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Leftovers: waste not, want not

You make a great meal for dinner, and then have tons leftover the next day.  If you like leftovers, you can have this meal again the next day for lunch, or even for dinner again.  If you don't like leftovers then the food gets thrown out which is such a waste.
Leftovers are the gift that keeps on giving.  Reusing and conserving is very eco-friendly as nothing goes to waste.    Here's a few ideas for what to do with leftovers that you wouldn't really think of using again.

This is one of the more versatile foods to turn into leftovers, by far.  If you roast a whole chicken, you can take the leftover carcass and put it in a pot with water and veggies and make your own chicken stock.  I usually make a chicken tortilla soup with this stock and the leftover meat.  Delicious.  If you make any other kind of chicken, you can cut it up and use it in quesadillas, chicken pasta, or chicken salad sandwich.

This another very useful leftover.  If you get a loaf of french bread, ciabatta, challah, or any other bakery bread, you can cut the leftovers in cubes to make croutons.  Day old bread is perfect for french toast or bread pudding.  And even older bread is great for making your own breadcrumbs.  Also, you can top a toasted piece on your french onion soup.  Mmmmm!

I get the packs of pork tenderloin that come with 2 in it, and after making a roast with it for dinner, I cube it and make pork fried rice for dinner the next night.  Just add some veggies like carrots, zucchini, and green onions and it's a very filling meal.  Another meal you can make of leftover pork is a Cuban panini, with peppers, mayo, and sundried tomatoes.

Don't throw out the bananas that are getting spotty or black!  These are perfect for moist banana bread.  Add some chocolate chips in it and the kids won't even know they're eating something healthy.

Use this leftover in stir-fry, fried rice, or in your kids mac n cheese.  Or you can make a delicious broccoli and cheese soup.

After this vegetable has been made, it's great to add in lasagna (just mix in with the ricotta cheese and layer as usual).  You could also mix it with artichokes and parmesan cheese for a quick dip.

Halloween is just around the corner and there are always bags and bags left at my house, which starts the 6 month binge of eating candy for holidays every month until Easter.  If you don't want it just sitting in your house all that time, how about chopping up the candy and adding it to cookies, frosting, or even a milkshake.  Candy canes are especially great to mix your hot chocolate for a minty treat.

The holidays are coming sooner than I'd like, but one guarantee is leftover turkey.  There are a million and one recipes for leftover turkey.  My favorite is turkey tetrazzini or turkey panini's.

Make a sausage roll up for breakfast the next day by wrapping the pancake around a sausage link.  Better than McD's.

Flake the salmon to make salmon cakes by mixing it with eggs and breadcrumbs from your day old loaf of bread. :)

Slice thin the next day and top on a salad, or add bell peppers and onions to make fajitas.

Hope these ideas will give your leftovers a second life and keep them out of the trash can.  Bon appetit!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Plan your weekly menu

You wouldn't think that something as simple as a chalkboard in the kitchen could be an environmental tool, as well as a time and money saver, but it is.   On this chalkboard, I write the meals that I've planned to make for the whole week.  There are many practical and useful reasons why this is a great tool to have in your kitchen:

Stick with the list:
This helps me think about what I'm going to make that week, then make the grocery list.  When I go to the grocery store, the list keeps me on track, which is great for eliminating impulse buying, (and it seems like I'm always starving when I go to the grocery store-- a definite no-no).  All of this planning saves me time and money.  I can also check to see if any of the things I need are on sale or if I have coupons for them and save even more money.

Mom, what's for dinner?: 
This menu keeps the kids from wondering what we're having for dinner and asking me a million times.  Now they don't ask and simply look at the list.  :)

Another great use from this menu is that I know how long food has been sitting in my refrigerator.  Leftovers have a 3 day limit in my house, so anything older than that gets thrown out (and will be composted when I get around to that project).

Waste not, want not:
I often forget what I've bought at the grocery store, so the menu keeps me on track to use everything I've purchased and nothing goes to waste (most of the time), which saves more money.

So, what to eat this week?

One meal with red meat:
Although eating meat isn't the most environmental way to live (because of the pollution and energy it takes to produce),  I will probably never be a vegetarian because I like it too much.  However, I only eat red meat once a week since I've read that it's not great to eat too often.

One vegetarian meal:
One meal is vegetarian, which saves money since meat is usually more expensive than a vegetable-based dish.  I look at this as my cleansing meal.

Easy-peasy, or Crockpot Meal:
At least one meal a week is a quick and easy meal to put together since some of my days are crazy busy shuttling the kids to their activities, and sometimes soccer runs into dinnertime.  If I have a meal ready for me at home, or only takes minutes to prepare, the less likely I am to get fast food on the way back from soccer, which saves me more money.
This meal could be something where the ingredients are already chopped and ready to put together.  Or it's a meal put together in a crockpot, cooked and ready to eat when we get home.  Crockpots save lots of energy and time and are great for the cooler weather we're finally starting to get.  Think stews, pasta dishes, pulled pork BBQ sandwiches.  Yummy.  Here's a link to some crockpot recipes: http://www.parents.com/recipes/cooking/family-favorites/easy-no-cook-suppers/

Let someone else cook for a change:
I reserve one day to go out to eat since I'm usually sick of cooking by the end of the week so that takes up another slot on the weekly calendar.

I understand that this may not be appealing to everyone since not everyone enjoys cooking as much as I do, but it's worth a try if you're watching every penny you spend.  I recently saw "America's Cheapest Family" on the Today show and this was one of their tips, to plan a weekly menu before grocery shopping in order to save money.

An example of my weekly menu would look like this:
Mon:  Vegetarian
Tues:  Crockpot
Wed:  Beef
Thurs:  Chicken
Fri:  Pork or Fish
Sat:  Pasta
Sun:  Go out to eat

And if you think that a menu looks tacky in the kitchen, they have some decorative framed chalkboards at places like HomeGoods or similar home decor stores that look great.  I've received many compliments on the chalkboard in my kitchen since it looks like just another home accent.
Hopefully, this is useful and helpful information that will save you time and money, as well as save a little bit of the environment.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

No more disposable mops!!

I have a major pet peeve that I'd like to get off my chest: disposable mops.  I hate them.  I dislike many disposable products but can understand why it's easier in this society to use something and then throw it away.  Unfortunately, though, that means more waste in the landfill, and more resources needed to create new disposable products.  There are alternatives out there that don't require much more work and are just as effective if not BETTER.  They also can save you money by not having to by the refills.

So, today's blog is about the alternatives to disposable mops out there, such as the Swiffer.  There was recently a problem with the chemicals found in the Swiffer being toxic for children & pets, so why put your family at risk and use natural cleaners instead.
Here's what I've found:

Spray mops:
These mops have a container where you can put your own solution to spray on the floor.  This saves you money by either making your own solution, or by buying refills for your favorite cleaning solution (either non-toxic or toxic, your choice.  You know which I'd choose.)  They also feature a micro-fiber pad which is washable and reusable.  I love this idea!  I haven't tried either yet, but the concept is brilliant.  If you have used a Swiffer and are used to this idea, why not try this alternative?
The brands I've seen recently are:
Libman Freedom Spray Mop:  Doesn't require batteries, (about $20-30).  Visit their site for a $5 rebate coupon:  http://www.libman.com/freedom-mop.aspx
Rubbermaid Reveal: also requires no batteries (about $20-30)
Gaiam Spray Mop Kit (about $60)

The old-fashioned bucket and mop way:
The traditional way of cleaning your floors with a mop and bucket of water never appealed to me, but is very effective.  Lots of work and lots of water used.  It was a headache for me, but I know people who won't clean any other way.  To each, his own.  There are washable, reusable microfiber mop heads that are great such as Casabella or Real Simple.  

Dry mops:
Method oMops are great.  They have different ones for wood floors or all-purpose, and they have great non-toxic cleaners that go with them.  Method mops come in recycled and recyclable packaging for even less of an environmental impact.  How about that!  I've also tried the terry cloth mop heads for hardwood floors that are washable and reusable.

Steam mop:
This is by far my favorite way to clean my floors.  I mentioned this in a previous post about non-toxic cleaning.  All it takes is a little water and a plug.  It steams the floors clean, and cleans especially well on wood floors.  It requires no chemicals (besides water) and has replaceable microfiber cloths that are washable.  The Shark steam mop comes with 3 different types of mop pads: triangular (to clean bathrooms, around toilets), white rectangular (to clean large areas), and a purple one with a different loopy material (for wood floors).  There are 2 of each of these so you can have one in the dirty clothes hamper while you use the other one.  (I just bought the Shark steam cleaner and have mixed reviews.  More on that another day).
I have only used the Shark steam mop, but there are several out there to try such as Bissell, Eureka, Steam Clean, H2O, and others.  I got mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond with a 20% coupon, and it was totally worth the price I paid.

If disposable is still your way to go, then try Method's oMop sweeper duster.  Just like your old trusty disposable mop, you can throw the pads away when you're done.  However, these mop pads are made from corn and are compostable, instead of the petroleum-based pads that clog up the landfill.

So there you have it, all of the different ways to clean your floors using eco-friendly products.  I can't promise that mopping will become your favorite chore in the house, but at least you'll feel better by doing it a little greener.  :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Natural remedies

Today's eco-tip is to try to find natural remedies from every day plants and foods that you would normally buy or use.  I don't have a green thumb, AT ALL, but I'd like to get some of these to clean the air indoors & to get more use than just spicing up my food.

Here are a few remedies that I found online:
Aloe Vera plant:
Just the other day, I finally purchased my very first aloe vera plant.  I am a klutz in the kitchen, but I love to cook. But a week doesn't go by without burning or cutting myself.  This is a plant that will heal these minor injuries without getting medicine from the store and it works amazingly well, the natural way.
This is the plant that most preschools give your kid to plant and bring home.  Remember the movie ET?  It has another use besides looking pretty for about a week.  If you put these in a paper bag with unripe fruit, the flowers & leaves release ethylene gas to ripen the fruit quickly.  How about that!
If you mix the roots and leaves, it can help soothe sore throats.  If you mix the fruit & root bark with honey, it's a great cough remedy.  If you happen to be growing your own blackberries, or just buy them from the store, why not try this before putting all of those pharmaceutical remedies into your body.  It's all natural, so what could it hurt?  I haven't tried this myself, but plan to the next time the need arises.
Peppermint oil:
May have benefits for those with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).  Try putting some in some hot chocolate or in chocolate chip cookies.  Tastes great with some added benefits.
Fresh basil:
Antioxidant, boosts your immune system, helps prevent viral infections (like colds and the flu)
Every pregnant woman has heard that ginger helps reduce nausea (think, GingerAle).  But ginger is also good for several other uses.  Check out this site for more of it's remedies:  http://www.botanical-online.com/medicinalsgengibreangles.htm
This spice can be used for everything from memory-loss (boy do I need this one!) to headaches to the common cold.  Here is the link for it's uses: http://www.asianonlinerecipes.com/herbs-health/cinnamon-healing-properties.php

Other edible remedies:
Artichokes, honey and garlic can reduce cholesterol.  (Individually, not put together).
Tarragon treats toothaches.
Cranberries can treat UTI's in women.
Grapefruit may prevent obesity.
Thyme:  This herb fights viruses, helps menstrual cramps, is a cold remedy, and is a digestive aid.  

Why not try these natural remedies out without going too extreme with potions you've never heard of, or with medicines you get over the counter.  I'm not saying to do without modern medicines completely, just try something made from the earth first and see what happens.  Wouldn't hurt to try, right?

Visit this site for more information on herbal remedies:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pass: eco-products that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE

As promised, this week's post will feature products that are both good for the environment as well as great for your daily living.  Last week I told you about those products that didn't make the grade, at all.  These are my favorites that have been tried and I love.

Beauty products & toiletries:
Burt's Bees.
Their products feature everything from lotions, to shampoos, to men's products.  I especially love their tinted lip gloss which moisturizes as well as give you a polished look.
Ecotools makeup brushes.
These are made from natural & recycled materials, like bamboo, and work great.  They range from eye brushes, to foundation, to powder brushes.  Guilt-free beauty.
Eco-dent toothbrushes.
These are made from 100% plastic and have replaceable toothbrush heads.  If you think about how many toothbrushes are thrown away in your own household each year, it makes sense to get these to reduce your waste.  They have adult and kid's sizes, but I'm having a hard time finding the kid's ones these days.  Anyway, I love them so if you can find them, stock up.

Cleaning products:
Simply Green.
This company makes a non-toxic cleaning solution that you dilute with water to clean just about everything.  Besides my homemade cleaners, I use this solution daily to clean lunchboxes, placemats, and anything else that's not granite, wood, or stainless steel.
Seventh generation
I have used their dish soap, laundry detergent, and household cleaners and love them.  It gets pricey which is why I've started making my own.  But a very good product for those who don't want to make their own.
Their tub scrub (le scrub) works great (a lot like soft scrub) and is non-toxic.  Their biodegradable and flushable toilet wipes are great also, as is their toilet cleaner.  As mentioned last week, their tub & tile cleaner is not.
Microfiber cloths.
I buy mine at the Target automotive section that come 8-12 in a pack.  Very economical and in various colors so you can color code which task you want it for.  For example, gray for stainless steel, orange for the counters, etc.  I keep mine in a bin under my kitchen sink so they're always at hand and swap them out daily.  I toss them in the wash by the end of the week with my cloth napkins, dish cloths, and steam mop pads.
Scotch-Brite non-scratch natural sponges & scour pads.
These kitchen cleaning products are made from 100% natural fibers & recycled paper.  It's a renewable resource that will naturally break down for guilt-free cleaning.

Cooking products:
Contessa frozen foods.
These frozen meals are all-natural, minimal ingredients, taste great, and are good for you.  When you're in a rush and don't have time to make your dinner/lunch, this is a great product to try.  And as a bonus, there are coupons included in each bag for your next purchase.
Regency parchment paper.  
This stuff is a God-send for me.  I have been trying to find an alternative to saran wrap to pound chicken cutlets thin and this product works phenomenally.  It's also great for lining your baking sheets for easy clean-up.  And for those of you who like the convenience of disposable living, this is guilt-free since it's made out of plants so it's a renewable resource AND biodegrades!  Love it!

Products I'd like to try:
iPhone solar charger.  As addicted as I am to my phone, I have to charge it daily, so this is a must for me.  Probably going to add it to my wish list.  A little less demand on the power grid from me.
Preserve kitchen products (like spatulas, colanders, etc.).  These will also be on my Christmas wish list for sure.  Made from recycled yogurt containers they are stylish, functional, and eco-friendly.  And I love kitchen gadgets.

So, take it from me.  These products are eco-friendly but are just as effective as their non-eco-friendly alternatives.  And they're better for you and the planet as well.  Test them out for yourselves and let me know what you think.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fail: eco-products don't always make the grade

I've started writing this blog to provide people with alternatives to their everyday living in order to become more eco-friendly.  I love promoting green products that are just as good if not better than the regular products in the store.  However, just because something is eco-friendly doesn't mean it's always effective.

Here are a few products that I've tried recently that just aren't good:

Preserve razors: These razors are made out of recycled yogurt containers.  This company makes lots of beauty & home products, such as toothbrushes and razors, from those containers that aren't usually recycled in your local landfill.  (Most landfills except only plastic #1 & 2 located in the triangle on the bottom of your plastic products so I was excited when someone was actually making use of these #5 & 6 containers).  Anyway, these razors are HORRIBLE.  I cut myself shaving the other day so badly that a piece of my skin was in the razor.  Appetizing, I know.  And what's sexier than shaved legs, is shaved legs with band-aids stuck all over.  Oh yeah, that's hot.

Whole Foods brand shampoo & conditioner:  I bought these thinking that since they were biodegradable and don't effect the water eco-system that I was doing my part, but my hair looked like crap.  I'm not at the point where I can sacrifice beauty for the environment, so it's back to looking for a better alternative.

Tom's natural toothpaste: I don't recommend it.  My teeth did NOT feel clean, nor did my breath smell any better.  Again, beauty (& hygiene) over the environment.  Looking for an alternative.

Method Tub & Tile cleaner: This does NOT clean my showers to my satisfaction.  I have also tried a steamer as well as baking soda & vinegar.  So far nothing works as well as Kaboom! or bleach alternatives which contain all kinds of toxic chemicals that are bad for my health and the environment. But I'd like to shower in a clean & mildew-less bathroom, thank you.

Method's new tiny laundry detergent in a pump: I wish I could promote this one, as it's a great idea for those of you who use laundromats since it's small and compact and effective.  However, they need to come up with a better pump.  Three-quarters of the way through, the the pump becomes ineffective and it's very frustrating.  I'd rather just use another detergent without the frustration.

Lastly, I do not recommend GE's frontload washer.  They are very stylish and very energy efficient (they use less water to wash your clothes), however they are a headache to clean.  Never thought I'd have to clean my washer, but this one has a slide-out drawer to put your detergent, fabric softener, and bleach in, which you have to open to air out when not in use.  Otherwise it gets mold in it.  Mold.  Yuck.  Also, it has a plastic flap in the door opening of the washer where things like to get caught (like socks, coins, and hairballs).  I'll be going back to the old school washer once this one dies (in 15 yrs or so.  ugh!).

So, unfortunately, I can't just promote a product because it's natural or eco-friendly.  I'd like to recommend the best products to live a greener life, so it's back to doing more research on environmental alternatives to these products.  Hope these tips help save you a little time and frustration.  Next week I'll have suggestions for green products that I absolutely love.

In the meantime, please join my facebook page for eco-mami to receive daily eco-tips, current articles about the environment, and product reviews for green things I've tried.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Eat in season

Would you like to save money, lose weight, and eat fresh, delicious food?  If so, all you have to do is learn to shop for your produce in season.  

However, just because the produce is in the grocery store doesn't mean it's in season.  Have you noticed how the price of produce, such as strawberries, fluctuate from one season to the next?  If you buy foods that are in season, they will cost much less.  If you're buying fresh produce, you will be eating the nutrients and vitamins you need in order to maintain a healthy diet.  And in-season food always tastes better.  

You can eliminate the guess work of what's in season by shopping at your local farmer's market, which will offer local goods and reduce the resources needed to transport them to the grocery store from, say, California or Canada.  If you don't buy locally, it not only takes a lot of fuel to transport, but these products are usually picked early and don't always arrive in the best shape.

Another way to get your produce locally and seasonally is by joining your local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) at your local farm.  Your local farms can either deliver their crops to your door, you can go pick it up at the farm, or you can pick it yourself.  If you don't grow it yourself, this is the cheapest way to get your produce fresh.  

Of course, if you'd like a strawberry pie in the middle of winter, you can always go to the store and get what you need for that, but it won't taste as good as it does in the summer.  Or you could stock up on all of the seasonal produce and freeze it or can it so you can enjoy it all year long.  

Here's a link to an interactive map of the food in your season and region (with recipes too!):

From the website of the World's Healthiest Foods (whfoods.org), here is a list of the food you should eat according to season (and if you click on each vegetable it'll give you the scoop on what it is and why it's good for you):

Yummy eating, happy planet!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

don't believe the hype

Being an environmentalist can be a challenge.  Going to the market to buy food is a dilemma for me because I have too many choices:
Local or organic?  Free-range eggs in the styrofoam packaging or the store-brand cardboard carton?  Healthy snacks in individual plastic packaging or somewhat-healthy snacks in the bulk 5 lb box?  I'll be honest that I don't make the same decisions every time.  It really just depends on the mood I'm in or the cause I want to support that particular day.  It's too much guilt on my conscious for one person to handle so I tell myself I'm doing the best I can.  As long as I use my reusable grocery bags and don't buy junk "food" with tons of ingredients that I can't pronounce, I figure I'm being a good eco-mami.

However, after recently talking to a local farmer, I'm more confused than ever about these environmentally friendly labels you see at the grocery store.  For years I've been buying into the hype that free-range and organic are actually going to benefit the lives and health of the animals which become our food.  Not true, he said.  Free-range labels (which are regulated by the government) means that the animal is only required 5 minutes outside, or to just have open windows in their pens.  Organic beef or meat means that the animal needs to eat organic grain/feed.  The animals won't produce tastier meat but it will be healthier since it won't have hormones or antibiotics.  

So what to choose? Local and/or grass fed meat is tastier and requires less fuel to transport, and will be healthier in the long-run for people and for the planet.  My family is from Argentina, where they produce the best tasting beef in the world! The difference?  The cows eat grass.  Worth the extra cost in my opinion.  Grain-fed cattle have more risk of e. coli infection because it increases the acidity in the stomachs which e. coli needs to survive.  Free-range cows eat grass and get less sick which means they don't need hormones & antibiotics.  And from my own taste test, it seems that locally grown produce (such as in my own container garden) is much tastier than store-bought.  If you can buy local AND organic, that would be the best for the environment.

I'll visit the local farmer's market and buy their local products and I'll occasionally buy meat and cheeses from the local farm as well.  If I can see for myself that the chickens and cows are free range, then I'll spend my money on that.  I have noticed that I spend far less at the grocery store by not buying processed foods, which I can then spend a little more in local or organic.  Also, at least once a week our meals are vegetarian, and we only eat red meat once a week.  This saves me money, is healthier for my family, and healthier for the environment.

There are many choices, and you should make the best one for your family.  Eating organic, local, and grass-fed doesn't fit every family's budget, but it will taste better.  And who knows, maybe then your little ones will actually eat their vegetables.

Here are a few definitions that I found on these terms:

According to the Organic Trade Association:
Organic production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organically produced foods also must be produced without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.

Wikipedia: free range
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that chickens raised for their meat have access to the outside in order to receive the free-range certification. There is no requirement for access to pasture, and there may be access to only dirt or gravel . Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means. Many egg farmers sell their eggs as free range merely because their cages are two or three inches above average size, or because there is a window in the shed.

USDA's definition of free range is:
Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside. 
USDA's definition of organic:
"Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too." [What is organic food? (USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, National Organic Program (NOP)).]